It’s either Thriving, or it’s dying.

The Child is a part of nature. It’s either dying, or it’s thriving. People ask me all the time, “What’s your program like?” finding it necessary to compare one commercial program to another.   On the surface, there’s a plethora of choice on offer in the market; accelerated this and intervention that and multiple this and creative that. How different really is one over another? Is there an advantage one offers over another? One that matters? One that counts?

Look, a child is all that already, within. They are intelligent, they are creative, they are gifted, they are loving. There’s nothing more we need to do TO them. We just need to provide them the soil to grow. So, there’s no program – there’s only going with the natural unfolding of the child. Language is such a medium that it allows you to do anything with it – anything that supports love and meaning.

a child is part of nature. Where there is love, everything thrives.

The world is so obsessed with slapping labels on learning; on the teacher, on the child, on the material used, on the exit exams taken. And up to a certain point, up to a very limited point, it counts. It counts to know the teacher is not a lunatic or that the teacher shares the same values your family shares or share basic principles about learning as you do and has a clear idea of what you want for your child’s learning support and is able to provide that.  It also counts to accept your child as he / she is; if your child learns better through pictures and thinks pictorially rather  than in Roman letters, if your child needs to move enough in order to be able to sit down to learn, if your child needs to express himself artistically in music or art in order to make sense of other kinds of learning, then it counts to know which “type” your child is. It also counts to know that your child thinks by questioning; that they will give you questions to your question instead of an answer.

To a much lesser extent materials and testing count somewhat. The more gifted a teacher is the less dependent they’re going to be on material. A truly gifted teacher can look up into the sky and use the weather to teach a whole bunch of things through story-telling, through interpretation, through improvisation. A truly gifted teacher can be tossed out in the open and look to the ground and create a lesson plan on just about anything. A truly gifted teacher could be locked down with her students during an emergency and some learning is going to happen as well.  I might be proven wrong (and that’s the whole point of blogging out loud) but the more dependent on material a teacher is, the less experienced they tend to be and/or the more pressure they have from their society about “standardization”.

The idea that we don’t need to be tested flies in the face of everyone who calls themselves an ESL professional.  It flies in the face of modern post-industrial life.  The only way to know if something is wrong with you is to get tested. How can we measure what’s been taught if there’s no way of testing it?  It’s like, how can we decide who is the most beautiful woman in the world if we don’t have beauty pageants that lead to the Miss Universe contest? How do we know which country produces the fastest swimmer/runner and the strongest men and women if we don’t have the Olympics? How much of these really COUNT?

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

(Sign hanging in Einstein’s office at Princeton)

I hope we see that testing doesn’t tell us that we are healthy but only tells us what to focus on – our disease, our dysfunctions. Pageants and competitions don’t really tell us who the most beautiful woman in the world is but serves to make other women feel they are NOT beautiful. The Olympics may produce super-humans who have trained under rigorous conditions and a country’s GDP may show you how much wealth was created but the first says nothing about how the rest of the population is taught to master their mind for peak performance neither does the second reflect how well wealth is distributed in the country.

But this is how our world spins – on the 3Cs; Conquer, Compete, Compare. Sometimes it’s toxic to learning. Sometimes it’s toxic to what really counts.  It’s toxic to my soul as a teacher, as someone whose instinct is to guide and nurture.  I cannot teach assembly line style. I will not. And that’s what the ESL industry I’m in, just like any other industry, is subjected to – proving ourselves and providing results. It’s not the healthiest approach to learning. But that’s how the world spins.

Just what am I advocating? That teachers don’t need to be qualified, that any Tom, Dick or Harry should be allowed to teach?  That learning should be completely unstructured and organic? That outcomes don’t need to be measured?

Here’s what I’m saying – I think “exclusive” programs, methods, are all one and the same. The only difference is, maybe,  how they’re conducted and the pace they take. I think it’s helpful that programs continue to be created; there are more students than there are people who are willing to teach and material and ready-made programs are very helpful in cutting down teaching-prep time as well as to provide training wheels for less experienced teachers. But I also think that we must not judge something on the basis of brand name or “one kind of methodology”. That kind of thinking, that there’s this way or ONE way to teach language / to develop learning that is superior to another, is out the window. Gone. Expired. Redundant. Obsolete.

New prospects ask me all the time, “Give me the details of your Program.”

We’ve been so inculcated with the idea that learning-teaching needs to follow a prescribed program.  It’s not so much a matter of me not knowing what I’m doing that I don’t have a program – it’s that I don’t want to have to pick one thing over another and tell you one thing but then finding it necessary to adopt other methods of guiding learning when the situation calls for it. I know what some teachers might be thinking – “Tell them what they want to hear and then you can do whatever you think is best for the child.” That sounds like a plan to me but I don’t know if that’s called – what’s that term – lying? Would it cause me to lose integrity if I said something just to placate a person knowing that I would have to do something different from what I said I would do? Often we don’t want to overwhelm parents with information overkill. It is a fact that the more information and choices people have the less able they are to decide on anything.

I’ve got a job ahead of me : to write simple copy that can package “learning” into a commodity – to put it on a brochure and to get business in the door. But I don’t want to come up with clever ways of “differentiating” my company with a “differentiated” product. That’s the kind of thing I used to get paid to do – turn something that’s mundane and ordinary into something exclusive, desirable,  through “creative copywriting”.  Am I doing the industry a service by adding to the clutter? By writing copy that says why the way my company runs ESL classes are better than what other “methods” are propagating?

I think I’m going to write a copy that goes something like this :

“A child is either thriving or dying. A child learns all the time, anywhere, anytime. Our job is not to teach them, it’s to encourage their innate intelligence to expand, to validate their creativity, to enhance their self-esteem and their belief in themselves.  The Child is more important than the material used or the methodologies employed. The Child does not need to follow our methods and materials, we need to customize our approaches, materials to the needs of each child.

And we’re not always going to get it right, all the time. But learning is not a competition, it’s not a means to an end. There is no end. It’s a journey of exploration, of discovery, of making mistakes and making connections. Learning to learn is more important than content being taught. The content comes about on its own when learning happens. The teacher is not a fountain of knowledge – the teacher is just the farmer that does what is necessary to keep the natural cycle going, to provide the balance between protection and challenges that help growth, challenges that aid an organic being to thrive.

How are we better than our competitors? We don’t know. Logically, anyone in the business of private education is doing something good, is doing something towards the direction of allowing Intelligence to thrive. Only schools dumb children down. Private business came about solving problems public schools created in the first place.  We don’t make money creating problems – our business thrives by solving problems. And that’s why you pay us – to solve problems. Our competitors are in business to solve problems too. It all boils down to what kinds of problems you want solved.

Is there any way to help you decide whether we’re better than other services out there?  Logically, since learning is an innate function the child ought to be thriving on his / her own pace wherever they are right now – if they’re not thriving, they’re suffering, they’re dying, they’re getting dumbed down, they’re getting their light dimmed. Just as breathing, eating, living,  is innate – we’re either breathing, eating, living, right or we’re not and it shows itself up in our lives as in whether we’re thriving or dying. ”

That’s pretty long copy. It’s nothing like the short, snappy taglines we see that usually get parents making a beeline with their wallets open.  I might need to refine my copy. But my takeaway from writing this post is that I feel better about speaking my truth. It is my truth.

The truth is also that I have “programs” and “methodologies”  and “tests” that I am expected to market. How do I reconcile apparent contradictions? Perhaps I can get some some illumination from my numerology report on my “Life Path Number”, which is a 22.

Consequently, your Life Path is one requiring dramatic evolution. By being able  to integrate seemingly conflicting characteristics within yourself — your inspiring vision and your natural tendency toward practicality, for example — you develop the talent to deal effectively with a great variety of people. This allows you to understand and unite many differing people toward a single goal, melding them into a concerted whole. Your task in life is to unite the dream with the bottom line.

To unite the dream with the bottom line? To reconcile my ideals that push against the current grain and market myself within that same market? To market something in the midst of marketing clutter?  My task in life is to unite the dream with the bottom line, are you serious? And they know all this just from my date of birth? Am I in the situation I am in now all because of the date and time I was born in?

I’m either thriving or I’m dying, right? We’ll see.



Filed under ESL in Asia, learning about learning, Up the ante on teaching

2 responses to “It’s either Thriving, or it’s dying.

  1. Once again, I just simply marvel at your wisdom.

    • SC Mak

      Thank you so much, David, for you kind comments. I only know how to write from something that feels true for me, often causing irritation or anger and disappointment to arise in me. That I get such a comment from such an esteemed person as yourself is extremely encouraging and meaningful to me.

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